September 25-27, 2023 • San Diego, CA

7 Employee Engagement Best Practices from the HR Experts at Google

This is a guest post by Mike Sonders, Head of Marketing at Spoke, a simpler, smarter way for HR and People teams to manage employee requests.

Fortune’s annual list of the “Best Companies to Work For” has featured Google every year since 2007. For the last six years, Google held the number-one position.

But Fortune isn’t the only one praising Google as a great place to work. Google’s Glassdoor rating is 4.4 stars—impressive on its own, but even more so considering its based on more than 6,000 employee reviews. Additionally, Glassdoor’s “Employees’ Choice” list of best places to work has featured Google every year since 2009.

Google is a leader in the employee engagement space, and it’s not just because of its high salaries, free chef-prepared lunches, and other quirky—and pricey—benefits. On Glassdoor, Google employees praise things like work-life balance, growth opportunities, and company culture just as frequently as their perks.

If you’re part of an HR team at a small or medium-sized business that’s looking for ways to boost engagement, discover new ideas and exciting opportunities by learning more about the employee engagement practices at Google.

How Google Measures Employee Engagement

Google’s entire approach to business—including how the company drives engagement—revolves around data.

During his tenure as Senior Vice President of People Operations (HR) at Google, Laszlo Bock instituted a long-term research study—named gDNA—focused on developing a scientific understanding of the work experience.

More than just Google’s employee engagement survey, gDNA measures how both the work environment and employees’ individual personalities shape the employee experience. Thousands of randomly selected Google employees complete the survey each year.

One of the earliest findings from gDNA results was that the idea of work-life balance is flawed.

They discovered that there are two types of people: “Segmentors” and “Integrators.” Segmentors are people who are able to go home at the end of the day and completely forget about work. Integrators, on the other hand, struggle to separate work and life.

Less than one-third (31%) of people are Segmentors. The rest are Integrators—people who want to achieve work-life balance but are incapable of making it happen on their own. This data helped Google identify an area with tremendous potential for improving engagement.

If work-life balance is important for keeping employees happy, motivated, and productive—but employees can’t achieve work-life balance on their own—there’s an opportunity to boost engagement by developing policies that enforce work-life balance.

For example, Google’s Dublin office ran a program called “Dublin Goes Dark” that required employees to drop off their devices before leaving the office.

With a team of psychologists, researchers, and data scientists, your HR team could recreate gDNA at your business. But since most SMBs don’t have access to those resources, the better approach is to look at what Google has learned and adopt those practices at your company.

Employee Engagement Practices at Google

In Google’s early days, founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin focused on two things: creating a better way to find information on the internet, and making Google a great place to work.

To find out what makes a company a great place to work, they met with executives at SAS Institute. SAS Institute is one of Fortune’s “Best Companies to Work for Legends,” appearing on the “Best Companies to Work For” list every year since the list began.

What they learned from SAS Institute is that the foundation of building a great place to work is valuing your employees. Or as Jim Goodnight—SAS Institute’s founder and CEO—says: “If you treat people as if they make a difference, they will make a difference.”

The starting point for engagement is making employees feel valued. Here’s how Google shows its employees that they’re valued.

1. Google Keeps People Inspired

A 2017 study conducted by Future Workplace found that employee burnout is currently the largest threat to employee engagement.

One of the biggest causes of employee burnout is lack of control at work. Studies have shown that the most capable employees at a company are often overloaded with work. This leads to incomplete tasks, frequent overtime, and halted innovation—all of which reduce employee control and increase the likelihood of burnout.

Google’s approach to this problem is 20% time. Employees spend up to 20% of their time at work every week on projects that inspire them. With their 20% time, Google employees created Gmail, Google News, AdSense, and many other highly profitable products.

A perk like 20% time inspires employees because it allows them to focus on things they’re passionate about. That inspiration prevents burnout, increasing engagement and decreasing turnover.

Implement 20% time at your company by allowing employees to set an annual goal of their choice. Let them choose anything they’re excited or passionate about. Then, work with managers to give employees the freedom to dedicate one day a week—or one week a month—to working on that project.

Including 20% time in annual goals is important because it gives HR and managers the ability to measure progress and see the outcomes of the initiative.

2. Google Supports Flexibility

Another way to prevent burnout by giving employees more control is to allow for flexibility in work schedules.

Some of Google’s more exotic benefits—like on-site haircuts, massages, bowling alleys, gaming rooms, pools, and playgrounds—aren’t necessarily designed for after-work use. Googlers enjoy those amenities any time they want—even in the middle of the workday.

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Photo Source: CNN

While most Googlers work some version of a Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule, they can vary it up whenever they need to. Work six hours one day and nine the next, go swimming after a morning meeting, or work from home with a sick child—no one cares.

According to Prasad Setty, VP of People Operations at Google, one of the company’s core tenants is “if you give people freedom, they will amaze you.”

But giving their employees freedom and flexibility isn’t a matter of blind trust. Google only hires ambitious people—the types of people who do their work whether someone’s watching or not. In fact, the company is well-known for its lengthy, detailed, and thorough hiring process.

There are plenty of ways to support flexibility at your company. Allow employees to work from home when needed, adopt flex schedules, increase the amount of personal time employees get each year, or allow employees to take their personal time in hours—not days.

And remember that people are most productive in the morning before lunch. If flex time means people take the afternoon off for appointments or errands, it’s probably not as much of a blow to productivity as leadership may imagine at first.

3. Google Promotes Diversity

In 2015, Google expanded its 20%-time perk to create Diversity Core—a program that allows employees to allocate their time to diversity projects and initiatives.

Employees who participate in Diversity Core work on projects that raise the visibility of women in technology jobs and encourage more Hispanics to apply to work at Google, among many others.

According to data from Google, in 2014—before implementing Diversity Core—the company’s gender split in technical roles was 17% female and 83% male. As of the beginning of 2017, the number of females in technical roles at Google was at 20%.

Additionally, Google locations in the U.S. employed 5% more Asians and 1% more Hispanics at the beginning of 2017 than in 2014. If these numbers seem small, remember that Google employs more than 70,000 people; even a mere 1% increase is more than 700 people.

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Implement a program like Diversity Core at your company by allowing employees to set 20% time goals toward projects that promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and consider adopting some of Google’s other practices:

Google Employee Engagement Case Study

When analyzing data from gDNA results, Google’s People Analytics team noticed that fewer female software engineers were getting promoted than males. The problem, they found, was with their self-nominating approach to promotions.

At Google, software engineers nominate themselves for promotion when they feel they’re ready to take on more responsibility. The problem wasn’t that managers were promoting more men; it was that fewer women were nominating themselves for promotions.

To fix the problem, a senior leader at Google shared the data with Google employees, and HR teams encouraged managers to look for employees who were ready for promotion. Over time, the promotion rates for men and women software engineers equalized.

4. Google Listens, Responds, and Adapts

The gDNA study is just one way that Google collects feedback from its employees:

  • Employees use a tool called Google Moderator—another outcome of 20% time—to ask questions and vote on others’ questions they want answered.
  • Every Friday, the company holds an all-hands meeting where company leaders respond to the most popular questions of the week.
  • Leaders use a charting tool called Google-O-Meter to measure the popularity of different employee suggestions.
  • Leaders also schedule “Fixits” to solve big, urgent problems. Fixits are 24-hour sprints where teams focus 100% on finding solutions to specific problems.

There are plenty of ways for HR teams at SMBs to solicit employee feedback: engagement surveys, pulse surveys, anonymous forms, or even just a basic pen-and-paper suggestion box.

But remember that the only way to benefit from giving employees a voice is to respond and react to their suggestions. If you don’t have leadership buy-in on making changes, it’s probably not worth asking for feedback. Doing so will make people less likely to make suggestions in the future.

Google Employee Engagement Case Study

In its early days, Google founders Page and Brin wondered if a flat structure—one without managers—was better than a traditional workplace hierarchy. Eventually, the company turned to data to answer that question, launching a study called Project Oxygen.

Project Oxygen researchers gathered feedback data from employee surveys. They used that feedback data to create a baseline for determining management quality, and then they used that baseline to identify managers of the highest and lowest quality.

Next, they looked at survey data specifically for their highest- and lowest-quality managers. What they discovered was that managers identified as the highest quality had the lowest turnover and happiest teams.

By collecting employee feedback, Google was able to determine that a flat hierarchy wasn’t the best way to improve engagement. Additionally, they discovered the specific behaviors that their highest-quality managers exhibited, using that information to create new management training programs.

5. Google Encourages Development

There are a lot of different ways for businesses to encourage professional development:

  • Offer a professional development stipend.
  • Form a mentorship program.
  • Provide PTO specifically for time-off related to learning and development.
  • Have an on-site library of books selected by employees and leaders.
  • Reimburse employees for tuition costs.

Google has its own unique way of encouraging professional development: CareerGuru. CareerGuru provides employees with access to company leaders who explain—in great detail—what it’s like to work in different roles within the company.

This level of career coaching helps employees find roles they might want to move into one day in the future and learn what education and experience they need to qualify.

To recreate CareerGuru at your company, find managers and executives interested in offering occasional career coaching, and set up sessions for employees to meet with leaders to learn more about different roles. If confidentiality is a concern, handle all scheduling within HR, and set up one on ones instead of group meetings.

6. Google Creates a Culture of Empathy

Data doesn’t always have the answers. That’s a lesson Google learned during Project Aristotle—the company’s quest to determine the composition of the perfect team.

Using a decade’s worth of data collected about Googlers—covering everything from their educational and career backgrounds to their interests and eating habits—researchers and data scientists attempted to find patterns among Google’s highest-performing teams.

They couldn’t.

The conclusion they ultimately came to was that the perfect team had nothing to do with any qualities of the people on that team. The statisticians couldn’t find patterns. The data just didn’t contain the answers they were looking for.

So the team took a different approach: they observed high- and low-performing teams to look for consistencies in how the teams interacted and ran meetings. The discovered that members of the highest-performing teams felt safe speaking up and sharing their ideas.

Great teams trust and respect each other, providing all members with not only a voice, but also the confidence to share that voice with others.

Here’s how Charles Duhigg summarizes Project Aristotle’s findings in his piece for The New York Times:

What Project Aristotle has taught people within Google is that no one wants to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations. We must be able to talk about what is messy or sad, to have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy.

Emotional intelligence training is one way for HR teams at SMBs to promote trust and respect in the office. It’s also important to remember that a company’s culture starts at the top. Encourage senior leaders to be more open and honest with employees—and to encourage their reports to do the same.

7. Google Offers Unique Benefits

An article about Google just wouldn’t be complete without covering the company’s unique benefits. But many discussions of Google’s benefits focus on the wrong thing—they focus on what the benefits are and not why Google offers them.

For example, in Google’s early days, Page and Brin noticed that young software engineers were really bad about washing their clothes. This led to the company’s on-site laundry perk. No one sat down to brainstorm benefits and thought, “I bet this perk will make people want to work here.” They were simply fulfilling a need.

When putting together the benefits package for SMBs, consider what you know about company employees, and use that information to design unique benefits:

  • If many employees have young children, consider offering childcare reimbursement instead of/in addition to tuition reimbursement.
  • If many employees are recent college graduates, consider offering student loan payment matching instead of/in addition to 401k matching.
  • If many employees are nearing retirement, consider allowing them to invest their professional development funds into their retirement accounts.

If you don’t know enough about employees to know what benefits they need, collect information from managers, or include demographic questions in engagement surveys.

Building Your Own Employee Engagement Practices

Laszlo Bock offers the following advice for HR teams looking to measure engagement and find innovative ways to improve it:

  1. Determine your biggest issues. Ideally, you’ll get this information from your employees.
  2. Use surveys to collect employee feedback on how to improve or resolve the issues.
  3. Tell people what you learned and how you plan to resolve the issues.
  4. Experiment with solutions.

When experimenting, Google recommends that you “treat HR interventions like a medical researcher treats a drug trial: have a treatment group and an equivalent control group, hypotheses, a data collection period, an analysis comparing groups, and quantifiable outcomes.”

Even if your plan is to simply recreate Google’s learnings at your company, it’s important to test the changes first and measure the outcomes. It’s a lot of work, but the engagement benefits will make the hard work well worth it in the end.

What We’ve Learned About Scaling Culture to 1000 Employees

Welcome to part three of the scaling company culture series! Don’t miss part one, “What Your Company Culture Needs at 10, 100 and 1,000 Employees,” or part two, “We Just Added Our 100th Employee… Here’s What We’ve Learned About Scaling Culture.”

Whether your company is already growing at breakneck speed or you’re sure you’re on the verge of something big, one of the first things you need to start reading up on is scaling company culture.

After all, there’s a reason your company is doing well: it’s got a certain something that’s making your team and your customers flourish, and you want to make sure you don’t break whatever’s working when you multiply tenfold.

So, why not ask people who have already done it?

This is by no means a comprehensive how-to for scaling culture to 1000 and more, but we think these are three lessons worth learning from HR leaders and executives who have been there, done that:

Lesson #1: Former BlackRock Exec Says Put Your Ear to the Ground

Charting a course for company culture past 1000 employees often starts with a map of where the leadership team wants to go. There’s nothing inherently wrong with getting your values straight (in fact, that’s #1 on our list of how to scale culture), but the planning process shouldn’t be exclusively high-level leadership oriented; it should also take into account what attracted your employees to the organization in the first place.

“I start by talking to all levels of employees about what makes the company unique from their perspective and their ideas about possible improvements for the future. Then I take time to compare and reconcile the differences and opportunities amongst levels and departments,” says David Dalka, keynote speaker and Managing Director of Fearless Revival, who led numerous critical project teams that redefined industry business models at BlackRock during its 80 to 800 employee growth phase. “That feedback analyzed empirically, allows everyone to figure out which items you should attempt to scale.”

“One of the cultural values that surfaced during the early days of BlackRock was our team’s ability to incrementally innovate to create a dramatically different process from what everyone else was doing,” continues Dalka. “We were challenged to destroy the jobs we had to build new ones that contained higher and higher value work that created better outcomes for all stakeholders. You can only do that in a company that empowers its employees and sees an abundance of opportunity, not scarcity.”

Lesson #2: Lyft Says Nurture Cross-Departmental Partnerships In the Recruiting Process

Ready to be impressed? Since 2014, the San Francisco-based transportation company Lyft has scaled from 80 to 2,000 employees. The company hired 1,230 new employees in 2016 and is set to exceed that number in 2017…. all while maintaining an excellent 4.0 overall employer rating on Glassdoor.

There isn’t necessarily one secret to maintaining culture, retention, and candidate quality and satisfaction while growing so quickly. But among many great ideas like moving from “culture fit” to “values fit” to speed up the hiring process and building authentic community connections, we want to highlight the team’s focus on nurturing cross-departmental partnerships throughout the recruitment process.

Scaling Culture During Hypergrowth: The Lyft Story

Image captured from “Nailing Culture During Hypergrowth: The Lyft Story,” presented by Lever and Teammable. Click here to view the entire webinar.

“When some companies think about underrepresentation, they often set broad, company-wide diversity goals,” says Tariq Meyers, Head of Inclusion & Diversity at Lyft. “But what ends up happening if you don’t take a departmental approach is that you’re not really able to figure out what perspectives are missing by level, team, and organization. So, when I’m working with department heads, I often invite the talent acquisition leadership, recruiters, sourcers, and coordinators to join me with my team, department heads and business partners along with hiring managers in the interview loop to get in a room and ask, ‘What perspectives are missing in your room?’”

Lesson #3: Former Exxon Mobil Exec Says Don’t Forget the Follow Through

When Millie Bradley, retired Exxon Mobil exec, was scaling 200 different company cultures with 100,000 employees, the key was the follow through. Bradley was surprised to find that the culture and implementation of culture needed to be renewed over time. So right at the top of her list with clear global policies, management buy-in, and extensive training comes stewardship and monitoring.

When Millie Bradley, retired ExxonMobil exec, was scaling the company culture across 200 countries and 100,000 employees, she realized that long-term success takes follow through. Bradley realized that the implementation of culture needed to be continuously reinforced to be sustainable. So right at the top of her list of advice — along with clear global policies, management participation, and extensive training — comes stewardship and monitoring.

“Operating management is ultimately responsible for a culture of integrity and ethics, so ownership of all violations of policy, annual stewardship to senior management of organizational culture, and face-to-face participation in the training of employees is critical to sustainability,” writes Bradley. “Making stewardship of ethics a management stewardship item, along with operating excellence and financial performance, sends a clear message to the organization about the importance of culture and values.”

Are you in the process of scaling company culture past 1000? Let us know in the comments what you would add to this list!

What We’ve Learned About Scaling Culture to 100 Employees

In the first article in this series, “What Your Company Culture Needs at 10, 100 and 1,000 Employees,” we took a practical look at the components that need to be in place as your company grows and reaches those milestones.

But what does it take to actually make the move from 10 to 100 employees? What challenges do organizations typically face, and how does scaling culture overcome them?

Today, we’re going to hear what our Culture Warrior community has to say about scaling culture. If you’re setting out to scale a company culture to 100 employees or your current culture isn’t scaling well, here’s what our experts think you should do:

Lesson #1: Identify what’s going wrong with your culture

People add complexity, so it’s natural that your processes and structures will grow as your roster does. But when those processes and structures have a negative impact on your company culture – when they take away from the natural give and take of your community as it works through challenges – it’s time to bring the focus back to company culture.

Here are several examples of the challenges our Culture Warrior’s organizations were facing that made it clear that scaling company culture was the solution:

  • Poor morale and high turnover
  • Lack of company direction and very green leadership team
  • Lack of accountability to goals
  • Not enough infrastructure to support growth (or to support remote growth)
  • Loss of intimacy because growing required the addition of more structured systems
  • Fear of losing control on the part of the older leaders and clinging on to old ways as part of the “old guard”
  • Fast growth and increased diversity leading team members to feel that they did not know each other well
  • Cliques forming and competing for influence

If you’re experiencing any of these warning signs, there’s a strong chance that what’s ailing your organization is culture-related and can be improved with intentional effort.

Lesson #2: Focus on one thing at a time

High-performing (and fast-growing) companies like Zappos, Google, and Apple know the truth about company culture: you can’t do more than one or two big things at a time. That’s why we weren’t surprised by our expert’s second lesson for scaling culture: you need to focus on one thing at a time and grow buy-in among your team members by moving from one small victory to another.

“Introducing one new idea at a time allowed everyone to experience the benefits,” writes Dada Nabhaniilananda, Head Instructor at The Monk Dude, LLC. “The group adopted some new ideas so completely that now they think it was their idea!”

Focusing on one or two big changes also has the benefit of limiting the amount of confusion your employees experience, leading to better implementation. Or, as another contributor mentioned, “Once you have a structure to follow for meetings or a roadmap that you’ve communicated effectively, people just ‘get it’ better.”

Lesson #3: Scale company culture with the three Cs

Our contributing Culture Champs were very clear that the key to achieving successful culture change at scale lies in three important words: clarity, commitment, and communication:

Clarity

Successfully scaling company culture requires that you know what you’re changing and why before you bring it to your leadership or employees. If you don’t have complete clarity around where you’re going and why, your efforts won’t get you very far.

One human resources professional shared the steps he took to make sure there was clarity around the culture:

We created a company playbook so everyone knows who we are, how we work, how we will succeed as a company, our core values, etc.

 

We also aligned all core values and job-specific key goals to a new performance management process and created a company interdepartmental operations manual so everyone knows the rules to follow for certain internal procedures.

 

This improved clarity and communication across the organization lead to shorter weekly stand-ups for the entire company that were more effective and fun.

It will also help you gain consensus around what’s changing and what’s not. For example, Justyna Krzych, current Change Manager at Zalando who scaled in her previous role as Head of People & Culture at Mindvalley writes that, “we revisited our values to ensure we’re inclusive of all perspectives and realized that our values remain the same.”

Through this communication exercise, she discovered something very helpful: “There were new points to incorporate, but fundamentally, in all our diversity, we were still unified by the values that were there since the beginning. We’re diverse, but fundamentals unite us.”

Commitment

It’s also critical to gain the support of the higher-ups. Without an official pledge from senior leadership, your efforts won’t have the gravitas they need.

“Get commitment from C-level players to support the change,” writes Ron Branch, HR Director at Kellogg. “A lack of buy-in from management and employees can lead to negative surprises.”

Nabhaniilananda adds to the importance of commitment: “Spend time, especially with the leaders, explaining the benefits to them of scaling the culture and inviting their input and listening to them,” she writes. “Don’t be too hasty to move forward without getting buy-in from anyone who might feel threatened by growth.”

Communication

The final piece of the puzzle in successfully scaling culture is to make communication a priority. Even with a clear mission and committed support from leadership, your employees can’t move forward with your plans if they don’t know what they’re supposed to do.

“Listen with an open mind and don’t assume that “everyone knows,’” writes Krzych. “Once you engage in the conversation, you can really understand and incorporate different perspectives to make your company more than just a workplace.”

Part of that communication process for Nabhaniilananda was introducing a specific process for encouraging communication between veteran employees and new employees:

“Some long-term employees seemed to be threatened by the idea of our organization growing and engaged in unconscious sabotage to try to prevent that growth,” she writes. “We introduced a system of mentorship so that the older, more experienced leaders coached the rising younger leaders, got to know and trust them, and felt that their knowledge and experience was appreciated.”

We’re so impressed with the extensive knowledge our contributors brought to this discussion on scaling culture. So, we have to ask:

What can you add on these thoughts on scaling culture?

4 Ways to Re-Energize a Legacy Culture Without Alienating Original Employees

Few organizations have the luxury of focusing on company culture from the start. More often than not, it’s simply the byproduct of habits and attitudes of the founding members, original employees, and first hires resulting in a legacy culture.

But what happens when you look up and realize you’ve grown to that benchmark you thought was a long way off and your culture isn’t scaling well? Or that your culture has taken a turn for the worse and too much of a certain something has crept in, like negativity, gossip, or competitiveness?

There’s no starting over. Your veteran employees are good at what they do, and you value the loyalty they’ve shown over the years. So how do you reset an out-of-date company culture – or fix a broken one – without turning off employees who have been around since day one?

Read on:

1. Tie change to meaning, not mandates

As the global innovation company IDEO wrote for The Harvard Business Review, movements start with emotions, not calls-to-action. You can ask, beg, demand, or force your team to do anything, but the results won’t be nearly as powerful as true culture change would be. At best, entrenched employees will humor you and hope the phase passes quickly; at worst, they’ll roll their eyes and start looking for a new job.

Instead, bring the focus back to the deeper purpose of your organization and tease out what that should look like in the emotional landscape of your team. Use the push for a culture change as an opportunity to check in with the employees who have been there from the start and help them connect with the new vibe.

For example, what is it about your company’s mission that originally attracted your veteran employees? Has that mission changed? (In which case you’ll need to address that and see if they can get behind the new vision.) Has that mission evolved? (In which case you’ll just need to help connect the dots). Let every conversation come back to a meaningful, “Why?” instead of a behavior-focused, “What?”

2. Welcome tense conversations

There’s no dodging the fact that change management is hard. You could be implementing a new 50% raise policy with every employee and you would still probably run into one employee who’s upset, one who’s going to quit, and one who feels like it’s a slap in the face to all the ways they’ve contributed to the company. (Just ask CEO Dan Price, who raised everyone’s minimum annual salary to $70,000 and still had a few people leave over it).

Before you start to work with your team through some of these company culture changes, embrace the fact that there will be difficulties and that people won’t always see it the same way. Welcome frustrated and discontent conversations and try to bring the conversation back around to the deeper “Why,” of the changes.

For example, when Kronos CEO Aron Ain implemented an unlimited time off policy, a lot of veteran employees actually didn’t like it! They felt like the vacation time they’d accrued was going to waste, that new employees shouldn’t get so much time off when they themselves had to work for it, and so on. Instead of smiling and nodding, Ain and his HR leadership team sat down with each employee and heard them out. They weren’t about to change the policy, but addressing each of the employee’s frustrations went a long way towards bringing the focus back on the benefits.

Related: Creating Culture Across Remote Teams: 10 Tips from Pioneering Companies

3. Honor your employee’s commitment – long-term and short-term

Jumping right to, “This is the way it is – adapt or leave,” will drive your experienced employees right to the job boards. But if you spend too much social capital on honoring the old-timers, you’ll end up alienating new employees. (After all, if there’s anything worse than feeling left out of the future it’s feeling like you’ve joined a team that lives in the past – you’re just walking around stuck in someone else’s inside joke.)

How can you walk this line? By bringing the attention to commitment and loyalty to the company’s purpose, not necessarily duration or “who was there first.”

For example, communicate to veteran employees that you value their time and the longevity of their commitment to the company, but keep relating it to where you are now and where you plan to go (not just that one isolated moment in the past). Express your excitement for the contribution of new team members freely, but bring it back to how it furthers your organization’s original or founding goals (if possible).

In practice, this could mean balancing awards or bonuses for service time, like longest tenure with the company or biggest client network, with equally valuable prizes for accomplishments not tied to service or seniority, such as most improved, biggest collaborator or contributor, or “Put Out the Biggest Fire.”

4. Ask them to lead

When you’ve been a part of a team or organization for a long time, it’s natural (and healthy) to feel a sense of ownership over how things are done and what changes are made. Put yourself in the shoes of one of your most senior employees – wouldn’t you feel powerless or left out if you thought your company was growing without you?

Instead of bringing culture change to your legacy employees as an  “Us Versus Them” event, turn it into a partnership by asking them to lead a particular change. When legacy employees are change agents – especially if they feel informed and connected to the new value – they’ll be less likely to undermine the change and more likely to promote it. Here are some scripts you can use to ask for buy-in and leadership on these company culture changes:

  • Your feedback about X has been incredibly helpful. Now that you’re confident X will help you X, what do you think about helping us bring the rest of the team on board with the change?
  • You’ve been very clear with your feedback, and I appreciate that. The leadership you’ve shown here will be really helpful when we make X change next – can we count on you to support us with that?

Don’t miss this one: A Step-by-Step Strategy for Communicating Change Across Distributed Teams

Culture is behavior. If you tell people to think a certain way or ask them to behave in a certain way, they might comply for a week or two, but you won’t achieve any of the benefits of true, fundamental culture change. If you want to change the way your company works, collaborates, and communicates – without alienating your first hires – you need to encourage new relationships, behaviors, and habits among new and old employees alike.

We hope this list can help you start brainstorming ways to welcome legacy employees into the company culture change process, but we’d love for you to share your wisdom, too.

What would you add to this list?

A Step-by-Step Strategy for Communicating Change Across Distributed Teams

There is just one thing you can be sure about in your business – and that is the fact that it’s going to change. Whether you’re someone that drives change for the sake of progress or someone who tries to resist change, it’s inevitable – and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

What you can do is control how you handle change, including the way you communicate it to your team. This is even more important if you’re part of a company with distributed teams.

Delivering the right message to the right people in the right way is key to ensuring your team understands:

  • What’s happening
  • Why it’s happening
  • How it will affect them
  • What (if anything) they need to do to facilitate the change

Get this wrong, and you risk alienating employees and hindering how effectively change is implemented.

Managing this is a challenge in businesses with just one facility. When teams are distributed over multiple facilities and locations, the risks increase substantially, which is why it’s all the more important to implement and follow a strategy when communicating change.

Preparing to Communicate More Effectively for Distributed Teams

We’ll run through a step-by-step strategy for communicating change across distributed teams in just a moment, but before that, let’s go over a few things you can do (and probably should do) to prepare to communicate more effectively, in general.

Implement a company-wide communications platform

It’s vital that to communicate change – and to communicate, period – distributed teams all use the same web-based communication platform (and use it in the same way).

I use Slack, but there are countless other options if that doesn’t fit your needs or budget. Here are just a few:

Once you’ve picked a platform, you need to lay out the foundations of how you’re going to use it. This will, to an extent, evolve over time. However, it’s important that you’re all on the same page from day one.

The majority of these platforms revolve around two key features:

  • Private messaging
  • Shared message boards, groups or channels

Private messaging is just that – a private, instant messaging service between two or more users.

“Boards, groups or channels” (which are essentially all the same thing, just with different titles) are where messages you want to distribute to specific departments, teams, or the company as a whole, are shared.

This is where ensuring all users are on the same page – and by that I mean that they’re all using the tool in the same way – is so important.

Not all members of staff are going to have access to every “board,” so it’s critical you ensure the right team members have access to the right information.

For instance, you might have a board for “customer service,” another for “sales,” and another for “HR.” Chances are your sales team isn’t going to need to view the same messages as your customer service team, and vice versa. They only need access to boards that concern them and their work.

Establish “golden hours”

Time zones commonly cause problems for distributed teams. If you have teams operating in wildly different time zones, there’s a high chance there will be minimal, if any crossover, between working hours.

To counteract this, you can establish “golden hours” – a time period in which the maximim number of staff (ideally all staff, although that’s not always possible) will be at work.

Figure out when this crossover is, and ensure all key communications are made during this time.

Foster a transparent culture of continuous communication

While some announcements need to made using a specific process (like the one we’re going to go through in just a moment), there are going to be many more snippets of information that are worth sharing, but don’t call for a formal announcement.

Unfortunately, it’s easy for these sorts of things to fly under the radar and not be announced – at all.

Fostering a culture in which sharing information becomes second nature to your team is key.

For this to happen, when a staff member hears or receives new information, they should:

  • Ask themselves or find out if it’s confidential
  • If it’s not confidential, decide who else it concerns
  • Share the information via an appropriate channel – depending on who else it concerns, this is likely to be either in person, or via email or your company communications platform

A Step-By-Step Strategy for Communicating Change

Some information can be shared informally. I’m referring to things a team member or members need to know, but that do not have a substantial direct impact on them – either positive or negative.

Other information, such as significant internal changes that will impact employees’ day-to-day lives, calls for a more formal approach – like the following strategy, which is what I use to communicate change to distributed teams.

Step 1: define your message

Before you can broadcast your message, you need to define exactly what your message will be. This might sound straightforward – you just say what needs to be said, right?

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of your attempt to communicate change, especially across distributed teams, begins with what you say and how you say it. For that reason, defining exactly what you’ll say ahead of time is essential.

To do this, you need to establish:

  • What does your team actually need to know?
  • How should you word the message (in such a way that you eliminate the risk of crossed wires?)
  • What questions are employees likely to ask?

Use this information to craft a statement that divulges your message clearly and concisely. Before signing off on the message, ensure it only contains essential information, and that nothing within it is liable to be misunderstood. Consider the connotations of the words you use, too. “X is leaving the company” has very a different connotation than “X is pursuing a new opportunity” – the first one can potentially be construed in a negative light.

Step 2: decide who’s best-placed to deliver the message

This step ensures that multiple people don’t attempt to deliver the message – all potentially in slightly different ways.

One person at each of your premises should be assigned the task of delivering the message, or, if it’s to be delivered via your communication platform (more on this in step 3), handling questions and follow-ups.

Step 3: decide the best channel for delivering the message

There is no one “best” way to deliver your message – it all depends on your company culture, and the nature of the message itself.

Townhall announcements

A “town hall” announcement (i.e. a public announcement made in an open domain to as many members of staff as possible) ensures everyone hears the same message, at the same time. This greatly limits the odds of the message being misheard or wires getting crossed.

Townhall announcements are best suited to positive messages that help bring the company together. Do not use this method for delivering potentially bad news (unless you want to instantly shroud your offices in negativity).

Line managers to teams

This might also be referred to as “the cascade.” It involves messages being passed “down the ladder” from management to the level below them, and then again to the level below that.

It’s well-suited to the delivery of “bad news,” since it limits how many people will hear the message at once, and allows for (if needed) the message to be delivered in different ways, to different people. It also means concerns can be raised and addressed immediately.

Be aware, however, that this method is vulnerable to the “Chinese whisper effect.” However well you plan your message, each additional person involved in delivering it increases the odds it will be changed or diluted.

Internal communications platform

Messages delivered this way are usually presented in a written format, which eliminates any margin for error: you have total control over the wording used and you will know, without doubt, what’s been conveyed to each employee. It also makes it really easy for employees to follow up with questions, and in turn, for you to answer them.

On the downside, this method can be seen as impersonal or even cowardly – like you’re intentionally hiding behind a screen (which, perhaps, you are).

Step 4: prepare to handle follow-ups

It’s almost inevitable that when you announce change, employees are going to have questions. As part of your strategy for communicating change, you need to be prepared to answer them. Specifically, you need to formulate a process for employees who want to ask questions, raise concerns, and provide feedback.

Your internal communications platform is ideal for this.

If you used it to deliver the initial message, just let employees know that any questions or comments should be posted there. You may even want to create a specific “group” just for delivering the message and addressing follow ups. This ensures all information pertaining to the change is stored in one location.

Even if you’re delivering your message by another means, you might still want to consider using your internal communications platform for handling follow-ups.

In all cases, you need to:

  • Decide who will be responsible for answering questions
  • Ensure they know who to talk to if they don’t know the answer to a question
  • Brainstorm questions that are likely to be asked and prepare answers to them
  • Implement a system for asking questions privately, and ensure all staff members know what this is

You might also want to consider setting up follow-up meetings, or at the very least, repeating the message and encouraging staff to speak up if there’s anything they’re unsure of.

If you aren’t prepared to deal with the aftermath of your message, and you don’t provide a clear route for asking and answering questions, you risk staff trying to decipher what’s happening between themselves (or in other words, gossiping). Employees will raise and ponder questions with each other, which will inevitably lead to incorrect conclusions and more often than not, a worried and unhappy workforce.

Of course, there is no foolproof approach to communicating change – especially when it’s bad news. You can, however, control the impact of the change on staff morale by taking the time to plan how to communicate it and preparing to deal with what happens after.

Have you ever been responsible for communicating change – either to distributed teams or a single team? How did you do it and what, if anything, would you do differently next time? It’d be great to hear your thoughts if you have the time to leave a comment below.

What Your Company Culture Needs at 10, 100 and 1,000 Employees

As a company grows, something that can make or break it is its culture. A good culture creates happy, hard-working employees who stick around for the long haul. Conversely, a poor culture leads to disengaged employees, poor productivity, and high staff turnover.

Which of these scenarios do you think is going to help a company be more successful?

Needless to say, if your employees are happy, everyone’s happy. But what does it take to create an environment that your employees want to be in, and can thrive in? And how will this change as your company grows?

Some companies think that if they offer a few fun perks, their staff will be happy and the culture will take care of itself – but they couldn’t be more wrong.

While we’re going to discuss perks that can help foster a great company culture, there is so much more to company culture than free beers and flex time.

“Company culture is not a foosball table.” Melissa Tsang, Referral Candy

  • Your core values.
  • The mindset of your team.
  • The environment or “feeling” in the workplace.

These are the things that define your company culture. The perks just help to shape it.

“[Culture] lives in the collective hearts and habits of people and their shared perception of “how things are done around here.”” Bryan Walker and Sarah A. Soule, writing for Harvard Business Review

The ideal company culture is built on people who are there to do more than collect a paycheck – they’re there because they love their work and the people they work with. They’re along for the ride, basically.

Of course, company cultures like this don’t create themselves. It takes hard work, consistency, and an open mind to cultivate a great company culture – and it only gets more difficult as your company grows.

Here are a few key things that every company culture needs at its critical stages of growth, and how your approach to managing company culture needs to change with them.

 

Company Culture at 10 Employees

Startups have it pretty easy as far as company culture goes since it’s much easier to keep 10 staff members happy than 100. It’s also a good time to experiment and figure out the company/culture fit – after all, if you’re going to get it wrong, it’s better to get it wrong now. That’s because the bigger your company is, the longer it takes to implement cultural change – reportedly about three years, for medium and large organizations.

A solid hiring process

Your employees are the foundation of your company culture, so it’s critical to lay down a process for finding and hiring the right people as soon as possible.

You want to hire (and keep) the people that want to be there. Take Zappos. They offer new hires $2000 – to quit. This is because they only want to keep people that want to be there. If you’re only there for your paycheck, you can take your cash and leave.

Zappos Cubicles

While you don’t need to go that far, you should at least be asking interview questions that are designed to determine whether someone’s a fit for your company culture.

Things like:

  • What is (or was) your relationship like with your current (or previous) colleagues?
  • What sort of management style do you work best with? (Ask this question when hiring for both management and more junior roles).
  • What’s your biggest pet peeve in the workplace?
  • What things are most important to you in your professional life?

An open door policy

Your relationship with your employees is as important as their relationship with each other. Prioritize getting to know them. Ensure they always feel comfortable coming to talk to you.

An open door policy should mean literally that – an open door. Sure, there are times you need to keep it closed, but make sure that only happens when absolutely necessary.

Let your employees know that if the door’s open, they’re welcome to come in. If it’s shut, they can send you a message, or come back later.

Of course, simply telling employees they’re welcome to talk to you doesn’t mean they’ll want to. You have to be the kind of manager your staff wants to approach.

This means you…

  • Don’t criticize staff when things aren’t going according to plan, and certainly never patronize them. Support them in making improvements, instead.
  • Work as hard, or harder, than they do.
  • Never, ever, appear put off when staff asks questions or for help. You only have to do this a couple of times before employees start to learn (consciously or unconsciously) that they have to be wary about when, how, and how often they approach you.
  • Be transparent – it has a direct correlation to employee morale.

Bear in mind that as your company grows, it’s critical that all new management adopt an open door policy, too.

Keeping leaders close to the rest of the team has been a priority for Power Digital Marketing, which holds monthly, personal one-on-one meetings between execs and juniors – the reason being that (in the words of their CEO Grayson Lafrenz) it “ensures everyone feels like a priority and that their voice is heard. It also deepens the bonds and relationships between our team members.”

A break area

Break areas should offer a comfortable place for downtime where employees can socialize away from their workload.

Prioritize comfortable seating, arranged to encourage conversation, as well as a dining area. Offering entertainment is nice, but not necessary – at least at this stage. As your company grows, the break area and the facilities it offers will have to grow with it.

A regular schedule of social events

Aim for one a month. It doesn’t have to be anything “big” – drinks in a local bar should make most people happy. Don’t feel you have to fund events, either (although a goodwill gesture, like getting the first round, will definitely be appreciated).

Trust in your employees

If anything, this last point is the most crucial.

This is because one of the worst things you can do for any company culture is to micro-manage your employees. Happy employees are born out of a management team that is there for them when they’re needed, but that ultimately trusts them to do the right thing.

“Do not keep smart people on a tight leash.” Barry Appelman

Company Culture at 100 Employees

As your company grows, relationships will naturally change.

10 or so employees are likely to form one, single, tightly-knit group. You’re probably also going to have a very flat management structure.

As more people join the ranks, different “tribes” are going to develop – regardless of how adept you are at bringing the right personalities on board – and there’s a greater chance that some people will feel like they just don’t “fit in.”

In fact, research has shown that the faster your company grows, the more apparent these shifts will be.

Image Credit

It’s certainly not impossible to maintain a close company culture as you grow, though. When MyCorporation started out, they felt like family, a feeling they worried they would lose as they expanded. However, through regular team activities and a culture of kindness and encouragement, they’ve stayed “close and connected.”

That flat management structure which was so fundamental to your company culture in the beginning is likely to change, too. That’s normal, and in most cases, necessary. What you need to do, however, is implement systems that ensure all voices are heard and that everyone, regardless of their role or relationships with others, feels that they’re working towards the same common goal.

A mission statement

While you can write a mission statement at any point, it often makes sense to hold off until the company reaches a certain size and you have a concrete idea of both your company’s and employees’ values.

It’s always a good idea to involve your staff in creating your mission statement, too. Ask them to share what they see as the company’s mission or values, look for common themes in their responses, and work this into a statement that everyone agrees reflects why they come to work and what they’re trying to achieve.

Here’s an example of this in practice from when Buffer set out to define their company values. This is the form they distributed to staff:

And here’s one of the completed forms they got back:

Regular culture reviews

Ask employees to rate your culture on a scale of 1-10 and provide feedback on what they do and don’t like about it.

Do this once a year, unless responses signal that more regular reviews are needed.

Input from employees

Allow your staff to get involved in shaping company culture. Encourage feedback and make speaking up easy by implementing a system in which employees can share thoughts and ideas anonymously, or at least without judgment.

An onboarding process

The bigger the company, the more difficult it generally is for new employees to fit in. This means that implementing (and following) a set of procedures for onboarding new employees is essential.

This should include things like:

  • Ensuring someone is in the office and ready to greet the new hire as they arrive.
  • Getting everything they need to work (computer and phone, for example) set up and ready to go before they arrive.
  • Giving them a tour of the premises and introducing them to everyone they’ll be working with.

It’s also a great idea to assign each newbie a “buddy” who will take them under their wing, show them the ropes, and be their first port-of-call for answering questions.

An ability to adapt to changing staff dynamics

The sort of relationships a company of 10 might have are often impossible or inappropriate to maintain in a company of 100 or more. Learn how relationships change as companies grow, and figure out how you can help your staff foster and maintain strong relationships – with both existing and new staff members – as the number of faces they see every day increases.

Company Culture at 1000 Employees

A company with 1000 employees probably has multiple sites in different cities. They may well have even expanded into other countries. One of the biggest challenges, therefore, becomes maintaining, across all branches, a culture that’s in line with the company’s core values, but that also accommodates the unique needs of each location and its people.

The delicatessen chain Zingerman’s is one such company that has dealt with the issue of maintaining their culture across different locations. Their solution was to push for a coherent culture across all locations, but to allow for cultural variations across different departments and shifts. Specifically, they encourage their leaders “not to fight against this diversity, but rather to focus on the positive.”

Here’s what else you need to do to ensure your company culture is consistent (within reason) in a company with 1000 employees or more.

A plan of attack for dealing with organizational change

Change puts staff morale and, in turn, company culture at risk. Devising a contingency plan that details how to positively communicate and roll out organizational changes can help staff adjust, and reduce impact on company culture.

A systemized yet personal and approachable HR department

Big companies need systemized HR departments – without this, they’re very likely to buckle under the pressure. At the same time, an effective HR department needs a personal approach. The challenge is how to balance these opposing working styles.

You might want to start with easing their workload by outsourcing some of their more basic administration tasks.

A head of company culture

A business of this size likely has divisions that operate autonomously. This puts communication and company culture at a high risk of being siloed. If you value your company culture, hiring someone who’s responsible for overseeing and helping maintain that culture across sites and divisions is essential.

Take Google, which offers perks including free, chef-prepared meals, subsidized massages, nap pods, and death benefits.

A Nap Pod in action

They understand that these perks are not enough to create the culture they want their employees to enjoy, so in 2006 they employed a “Chief Culture Officer” whose job included protecting “key parts of Google’s scrappy, open-source cultural core as the company has evolved into a massive multinational.”

It’s probably safe to say this culture has had a big part to play in the impressive 4.4 rating Google has on Glassdoor.

What do you think companies need to create a positive culture as they start out and as they grow? Do you have any company culture stories to tell (good or bad)? If you do, it’d be great if you could spare a moment to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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